Conversations with a Killer: The Ted Bundy Tapes premiered on Netflix on January 24, 2019, 30 years to the day after Bundy was executed in Florida. Directed by Joe Berlinger, the four-part series, which consists primarily of archival footage and interviews with key players in the investigation and media coverage at the time, is anchored by excerpts from a series of taped interviews that journalist Stephen Michaud conducted with Bundy in 1980 while he waited on death row. Bundy, who maintained his innocence until shortly before his execution, was initially evasive in the interviews. Desperate for a breakthrough, Michaud suggested that Bundy approach their conversations as something of an “expert witness,” encouraging him to tell his story in the third person. “It was like I had unlocked an avenue for him to finally tell this story, without saying anything that could be taken to court,” Michaud says in the film. “And off he went.”
The series positions Bundy within the shifting social currents of the 1970s, when violent crime was on the rise, the concept of a serial killer was new and mass-murderers like Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy and David Berkowitz (Son of Sam) terrorized the nation.
“In the 1970s, the phenomenon of serial murdering was brand new and absolutely frightening,” says Michaud. “The term serial killer didn’t exist. The fact that somebody could murder and murder and murder and could get away with it for a long time and be undetected, it really unnerved people.”
And nobody was more unnerving than Bundy. “Ted stands out because he was an enigma,” says Michaud. “Clean cut, good looking, articulate, very intelligent. Just a handsome young mild-mannered law student. He did not look like anyone’s notion of somebody who could tear apart young girls.”
"Ted Bundy is the quintessential American enigma," Berlinger said in an interview with Refinery29. "He taps into our most primal fear: that you don't know, and can't trust, the person sleeping next to you. People want to think those who do evil are easily identifiable. Bundy tells us that those who do evil are those who often people we know and trust the most."
Berlinger makes excellent use of archival footage, immersing the viewer in time and place, capturing the growing dread as Bundy’s killing spree continues unabated and illustrating Bundy’s increasingly fevered mindset.
The film also succeeds in showing what the country was like before the advent of modern news-gathering, communication and law enforcement technologies. With little ability to share information and collaborate, even neighboring police jurisdictions were left to pursue their investigations in relative isolation, a gap Bundy understood and exploited as he made his way across the country.